With all the talk about the Zika virus lately, and the World Health Organization's having declared the outbreak a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" this week, many of us find ourselves asking the question: 'Am I at risk?'. It is, after all, human nature to ensure our own safety during public crises like this. While the only Americans who have contracted the illness have been those that have traveled outside of the country, according to public health officials that is probably not going to be the case for long. Given that the Zika virus has been around since 1947, why has it just now emerged as an international threat? Climate change is a likely culprit.
In the article below, Carolyn Kormann of the New Yorker writes, "Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that is largely responsible for transmitting pathogens such as Zika and dengue, thrives in the warm, humid, increasingly dense urban centers of Latin America, and climate change has been making these places warmer and wetter. According to a report by the World Health Organization, dengue infected people thirty times more frequently in 2013 than it did in the nineteen-sixties, making it the planet’s most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus. The International Panel on Climate Change recently projected that “the area of the planet that was climatically suitable for dengue would increase under most scenarios.”
Health officials can no longer place health care in a separate silo than they do climate action. It turns out, the lack of action to stave off future climate changes will directly impact the health of so many of us around the world. Rest assured, it is coming soon to a locale near you.
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By Carolyn Kormann I February 1, 2016
When Andrew Haddow was a boy, in the nineteen-eighties, his father told him bedtime stories about his grandfather, a Scottish scientist named Alexander John Haddow, who studied rare viruses in the jungle outside Entebbe, Uganda. As Haddow got older, he began reading his grandfather’s papers. One of them was about the discovery, in 1947, of a virus in the blood of a rhesus monkey that lived in the Zika Forest. This virus—which, like dengue fever and yellow fever, is transmitted to humans mostly by mosquitoes—remained virtually unknown for the next sixty years, but it interested Haddow. In 2012, Haddow, now a medical entomologist, published a paper on the genetic lineage of the Zika virus. Haddow identified two points of origin—one African, the other Asian—and showed that a recent outbreak on the island of Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, had been caused by the latter strain. His paper also warned that Zika might spread.
Today, in much of Latin America, Haddow’s prediction has become a frightening reality. The World Health Organization estimates that the virus could infect as many as four million people in the coming months; on Monday, it declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” a designation that has rarely been applied in the past, and is intended to coördinate international funds and expertise. Fortunately, the majority of people who catch Zika (perhaps eighty per cent) will experience no symptoms. But what no one, including Haddow, foresaw was the apparent, though still unproven, link between the virus and microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and, in most cases, irreversible brain damage.
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